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Can Customer Gap Analysis put Utilities Companies Back on Track?

August 26th 2017

The pressure is on for the UK utilities sector to deliver better customer service

Despite heavy Government regulation, the UK’s utilities industry – electricity, gas and water suppliers - continue to perform poorly when it comes to delivering good customer service. And with technology changing consumer habits, the pressure on energy and water companies to adapt and improve their customer experience has never been higher. Can Customer Gap Analysis put suppliers back on track?

Results of the latest Which? customer satisfaction research -  asked 8,917 people how they felt about their energy company’s service, including complaints handling, value for money and clarity of bills. It placed the ‘Big Six’ UK energy suppliers in the bottom half of the performance table.

Customer scores for British Gas, EDF Energy, SSE, Scottish Power and Npower were 50% or below. With an overall customer satisfaction score of 44%, Npower was the lowest scoring supplier for the seventh year in a row.

The 32 private water companies responsible for water, sanitation and drainage services in England and Wales also fared badly in the latest Consumer Council for Water’s complaint report. Data for 2015/16 [PDF] shows that almost half the companies reported a rise in customer complaints, with over 60% complaints relating to customer billing and charges and debt recovery.

Utilities face fresh customer service challenges  

With utilities providers’ reputation for low customer satisfaction at an all-time high, following the Which? survey findings, Peter Moorey, Head of Campaigns, said that the only sector distrusted more in their latest research is ‘used car dealers’.

Common customer service complaints aimed at utility providers, include:

  • Regular, excessive price hikes
  • Complicated pricing tariffs, making it difficult for customers to compare their provider and switch to a better deal
  • Inadequate billing and customer service systems
  • Missing and inaccurate bills
  • Inefficient call centres and long call waiting times
  • Receiving bills weeks and months after changing supplier
  • Poor complaints handling, including delayed responses to complaints and failing to communicate with customers during the process

As well as under pressure to improve basic customer service processes, as consumers’ needs change, the utilities sector is facing a fresh rash of challenges to overcome.

Mobile Technology – The take-up of mobile technology enables customers to handle their energy and water accounts anytime, anywhere, from submitting meter readings to paying bills online. Customers can also make enquiries and complaints to the company direct and on social media.

As well as managing direct customer complaints effectively and professionally, customer issues raised on social media need quick, careful, personalised responses to prevent riling customers further and complaints escalating. For gas, electric and water companies, this means paying attention and responding to customers on a mass scale.

Multiple Customer Touch-points – Technology has transformed the utilities customer journey, putting multiple communication channels at their finger-tips - email, live-chat, telephone, text and social media. Energy and water companies must ensure they have the infrastructure, processes and tools to handle customer enquiries/complaints across every contact point, without having the customer repeat information each time.

But just as customer contact has become more fluid, so too has the range of services utility companies offer. Gas and electric suppliers often offer numerous add-ons such as, emergency cover, boiler replacement and maintenance schemes, one-off repairs and home and landlord insurance.

Though some customer interactions are brief, for example, changing direct debit details, a complex repair or insurance claim may take days, sometimes weeks to resolve, involving calls and exchanges with customer service staff, document submissions and face-to-face contact with assessors, engineers and third-party suppliers. The more cross-functional operations involved in resolving a customer issue, the greater risk of service slip-ups.

To fully understand the customer viewpoint and build satisfaction at every touchpoint, requires suppliers to look at the customer journey from end-to-end.

Sustainable Energy – Concern for the environment is leading more consumers to opt for ‘green’ energy from renewable sources. Although many UK energy suppliers offer tariffs using some energy from sustainable resources, more companies specialising in green energy are emerging, attracting new customers and increasing competition.

Additionally, as more customers turn to renewable sources, such as solar panels, they need to buy less electricity and, as tech develops, will be able to go ‘off grid’ altogether, damaging suppliers’ profit margins.

Smart Meters – Smart Meters may have brought an end to estimated bills but they’ve also sparked an array of consumer concerns, ranging from the ease of switching supplier once the device is installed to the infringement of homeowners’ privacy.

With suppliers working towards the Government target of offering all homeowners in Britain a Smart Meter by 2020, energy companies need to think carefully about how they consult and communicate with customers before and after installation to improve satisfaction.

Can Consumer Gap Analysis help utilities rebuild trust?

Gap Analysis is a formal study that identifies where a company’s deficiencies or shortcomings occur. Once the gaps are identified, steps can be taken to overcome them.

Gaps appear in three primary areas:

  1. ‘People’ – for example, employees lacking certain skills,
  2. ‘Processes’ – such as, unclear handovers between steps, and
  3. ‘Technology’ – for example, inadequate or incompatible computer systems. 

So, is gap analysis the answer?

Although thorough customer gap analysis for utilities suppliers represents a significant undertaking, experience shows that when performed correctly it’s able to pinpoint the gaps in customer service provision that let a company down and the root cause of dissatisfaction, allowing managers to develop and roll-out a targeted improvement programme.

Additionally, gap analysis not only helps companies resolve current customer issues but anticipates how their needs will change over time, enabling the company to create a clear roadmap for the future.

TTi Global Research, specialists in regulated and non-regulated customer service surveys for a wide range of UK power distribution companies and other utility providers, pioneered its leading gap analysis framework, Customer Experience Quality Analysis (CEQA), to isolate service quality issues for utility companies of all sizes, from the ‘Big Six’ energy giants to smaller specialist suppliers.

Based on the PZB Service Quality Gap Model developed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry, the framework identifies the gap between customers’ service quality expectations and an organisation’s performance on service quality. Unlike ‘one size fits all’ customer experience surveys, CEQA uses a blend of multi-mode data collection methods, including Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI), web-based interviews and tailored customer satisfaction surveys to yield a continuous stream of valuable data.

Ready to improve your customers’ journey?

If you’d like to know more about TTi’s leading customer experience research solutions, call our consumer research experts today on or email us here.

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